Environmental Justice for a Modern Australia

From animal rights to mining to rising sea levels, environmental justice encompasses an immense array of issues. It is a school of thought often related to the impact that environmental degradation has on people of developing nations; those whose livelihoods are arguably more directly affected by environmental change than those in developed countries. But environmental justice has relevance here in Australia as well. We need to start asking more questions about how it can assist the managers, policy makers, and researchers trying to balance the increasing need to protect our nation’s environmental capital with the needs of a rapidly expanding population.

Image: CSIRO Publishing

Image: CSIRO Publishing

In Natural Resources and Environmental Justice: Australian Perspectives, Anna Lukasiewicz and her team of co-editors attempt to condense a complex and controversial topic into a tidy collection of 19 chapters. With essays ranging from a discussion of what environmental justice actually is, to injustices in water access and animal property rights, this text is filled to the brim with fascinating case studies, each revealing just a little more about a topic that remains largely unexplored by the general public – even those with an interest in the environment.

One difficult idea that this book tackles is how Australia can begin to confront the environmental injustices affecting humans, without inflicting injustice on other living things in the process. This is especially difficult when natural resource managers and environmental policy makers are already trying to balance the wants and needs of humans, every group of us looking for different outcomes and feeling injustices in different ways. Discussing examples of mining, forestry, and water access, the chapters of this text compare how natural resource management overseas compares to that in Australia, and how various social and political groups influence and are affected by concepts of environmental justice.

Whilst this largely academic book has been written for those already working in management and research industries, there is still plenty of knowledge for the everyday reader to take on board. Some contributors to this book observe a more philosophical approach to issues that many still think of as simply management-based. Discussing issues of animal property rights, John Hadley describes the relevance of ‘interest-based arguments’ to environmental justice: wild animals ‘have an interest’ in natural resources because they require them for survival, so in some sense, ‘it is a property interest because property… is an institution concerned with regulating access to and usage of natural resources.’

Should some natural resources be classified as the 'property' of wild animals?  Image: Rowan Mott

Should some natural resources be classified as the 'property' of wild animals? Image: Rowan Mott

So can property now be considered as something more than just a human concern? How then should we feel about those animals that make homes of our rooves and destroy our fruit trees? This is subsequently a text that inspires ideas – how can philosophies such as this help you and your community, and how might you begin to apply them to environmental issues close to your heart?

This publication also raises the undeniably terrifying question of just how long it will be before everyday Australians will be severely affected by environmental injustices that are the result of climate change. Many would argue that we already are, but perhaps until the rhetorical, and somewhat literal, dam breaks and the sea waters flood in, plenty will still fail to grasp the notion that current Australian lifestyles are not perpetual. If nothing else, the fact that this book discusses how local Victorian councils are addressing issues of rising sea levels – in the here and now - should bring the threat of climate change and environmental injustice much closer to home.

You can purchase your copy of Natural Resources and Environmental Justice from CSIRO Publishing.


Rachel Fetherston

Rachel is an Arts and Science graduate and a freelance writer who is passionate about communicating the importance of the natural world through literature. She has completed an Honours year in Literary Studies, involving research into environmental philosophy and the significance of the non-human other. She is the Publications Manager for Wild Melbourne.

You can find her on Twitter at @RJFether.

Banner image courtesy of Stephen Edmonds [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Review: Animal Eco-Warriors

We share the world with countless species of animals, and all of them see the world in different ways to us. Dogs can smell a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of hot chocolate; sugar gliders love to snack on pollen, sap, and bugs; and bees use their dance skills to give each other directions. It seems inevitable, really, that people and animals would learn to work together and share our skills, so that we can all protect our home – the planet.

That’s what Animal Eco-Warriors is all about. People and animals have been teaming up all over the world, from Africa to America to Australasia and Antarctica. Nic Gill’s book is jam-packed with 17 stories about animals working with people to conserve the environment.

The cover may be colourful and crazy, but this is a book that takes its subject seriously. It’s aimed at readers aged 9-12, but don’t let the recommended ages stop you – this is a book that anyone can learn a lot from! Younger readers definitely won’t feel like they’re being talked down to – even adults will need to use the glossary from time to time, where you can find the definitions of unfamiliar words from 'biosecurity' to 'thoracic air sacs' (a special part of a bird’s respiratory system).

Fact files in yellow boxes will also clue you up on the inner workings of a dog’s amazing nose, how ruminants like goats digest weeds, and how to catch an elephant seal (but don’t try that one at home). With all this great information separated out into the glossary and fact files, you can save your studying til the end and focus on what’s really important… the stories.

Although the human-animal teams range as far afield as Utah and Mozambique, Nic Gill focuses mainly on the animal action happening in Australia and New Zealand. It may come as no surprise to learn that dogs have a big role to play in conservation. Their incredible sniffing power is used to track down koalas, seek out sausages in suitcases, and find feral predators like cats and foxes. This in turn helps people to monitor animal numbers, stop biological pests from entering certain areas, and protect native animal species that can’t defend themselves against new predators.

While dogs dominate the pages of Animal Eco-Warriors, they aren’t the only stars of the show. Sugar gliders have helped one farmer defend his trees from swarms of destructive Christmas beetles. Goats have been put to work munching on invasive weeds. Even bees have been given backpacks to help scientists work out why their numbers are falling so fast.

Nic Gill has travelled all over to meet the people who are training and working with these animals in the name of conservation. We follow her as she journeys to remote islands by boat, hikes through mountain landscapes in pursuit of tracking dogs, and chats to the fascinating people who have dedicated their lives to training animals to help the environment.

The book is filled with photos of the animal eco-warriors at work, the pest species they target, and their handlers, as well as illustrations of the inner workings of some creatures. However, this is by no means a picture book, and it treads a good line between sharing fun pictures and anecdotes, and some seriously interesting information. Plus, the investigation doesn’t need to stop at the end of the chapter: in every section, Nic Gill offers ideas and links for further research online, and even some training tips for your own pets so you can emulate some of the animals’ work at home.

Aside from a standard encounter with the biosecurity sniffer dogs at Hobart Airport, I wasn’t aware of any of these amazing human-animal conservation projects before I read this book. No matter your age, there’s plenty to learn and be entertained by.

You can purchase your copy of Animal Eco-Warriors from CSIRO Publishing.

Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky is a writer and environmentalist from the UK who has called Melbourne home since 2014. She is a graduate of English Literature and is particularly interested in the connection between language and landscape.

You can find her on Twitter at @saesteorra

Banner image courtesy of CSIRO.

Big, Bold and Blue

Big, bold and blue is exactly how I would describe the marine environment. Such simple words profoundly convey the ocean’s expanse, its unexplored depths and soothing aesthetics. Yet, as this book title suggests, they also allude to the aspirations and depths of courage required to address an expanse of environmental challenges our oceans – and our world for that matter – face.

Having recently completed my PhD studies investigating the effects of commercial fishing on shark and ray populations, marine conservation is very dear to my heart. Putting conservation measures into practice is by no means an easy task though. It requires combinations of extensive ecological research, consultation with stakeholders ranging from the recreational fisher next door to multi-billion dollar oil companies, and importantly, sufficient funding and adequate legislation.

Nearly 36% of Australia’s waters fall within a marine protected area (MPA) and increased awareness for the conservation of biodiversity has resulted in a rapid, five-fold expansion of MPAs over the last 15 years. Big, Bold and Blue explores the history of MPAs in Australia and, by examining specific examples such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP), highlights our past mistakes and our triumphs, offering possible solutions to carry forward for the enhancement of marine conservation in Australia. Importantly, the book incorporates a breadth of perspectives crucial to the development of successful MPAs, which include opinions from those in science, law, government, industry, indigenous affairs and the general public.

Structurally, the components of this text are sound and follow a logical and intuitive layout. Divided into five parts, each comprising several chapters (with exception to part five), the book begins in part one by exploring the history of MPAs in Australia and placing them in a global context. Part two delves deeper and investigates MPAs at both regional and national levels, noting the influence of differing socio-political climates, government policies and legislation. A notable case study in part two is the GBRMP, which aside from being one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is also one of the largest and oldest marine national park systems on earth – justifiably earning it the status of ‘the grandfather of modern day MPAs.’ Part three highlights and explains key elements such as ecological theory, legislation and economics to consider when designing, implementing and managing MPAs. Part four is perhaps one of the more interesting sections, as it provides insight into varying perspectives and interpretations of the value of MPAs from experts in academia, indigenous communities, industry and the general public. Finally, part five concludes the book and neatly wraps up what policies and measures work and haven’t worked, as well as the challenges ahead when refining and improving the creation and management of MPAs.

Marine parks are a great source of enjoyment for recreational divers.  Image: Evatt Chirgwin

Marine parks are a great source of enjoyment for recreational divers. Image: Evatt Chirgwin

For me, a stand-out feature of Big, Bold and Blue is the chapter ‘Protecting sea country: Indigenous Peoples and marine protected areas in Australia.’ This chapter is emblematic of a broader, positive, socio-cultural shift whereby traditional ownership and cultural rights of First Peoples are being formally recognised. Rather than focusing on the ecological benefits of incorporating indigenous management practices, the chapter is more concerned with recognition of native title and promoting collaborative efforts between indigenous communities and government. Quite poignantly, the chapter concludes, ‘Government responses in this policy area… [are] yielding multiple benefits both in terms of environmental management and indigenous wellbeing.’

I’ll admit, my strengths lie in animal biology and physiology rather than conservation, but that is precisely why this book is so appealing – it offers the perfect opportunity to understand the real-world, practical foundations behind enacting marine conservation and the development of MPAs. Fortunately, you don’t need a PhD or any university degree to understand the beautifully detailed concepts this books proposes. Graphs, detailed maps and tables are strategically placed throughout to communicate complex management concepts and systems occurring on global, national and regional scales. The diversity of perspectives and expertise by contributing authors also offers solid foundations for any further exploration, whether it be legislation, economics or ecological theory. In essence, the book’s structure, the topics covered, and the use of succinct and simple language make this book accessible to all.

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you’re interested in conservation management and/or want insight into socio-political influences driving conservation policies.

Head to the CSIRO Publishing website to purchase your copy. 

Leonardo Guida

Following a childhood love for sharks, Leo recently completed his PhD at Monash University investigating the effects of fishing on shark and ray populations. He is Director of Community Operations for Wild Melbourne.

You can find him on Twitter at @ElasmoBro.

Banner image courtesy of Evatt Chirgwin.

Review: Wildlife Conservation in Farm Landscapes

The quintessential farm usually consists of large expanses of cleared land, primarily dominated by exotic crop species or pastoral grass for livestock. The clearing of land for agricultural practices is often accompanied by a reduction in biodiversity, and consequently a decrease in the ecological processes that a healthy ecosystem performs.

Ecologically sustainable farming practices can help mitigate some of the impacts on biodiversity due to agriculture. Wildlife Conservation in Farm Landscapes is a guide to these practices, discussing which are the most effective in restoring ecological processes on farmland. Across six main chapters, the authors ask ‘how can we maintain or even increase food production without undermining the productive capability of farms and without significantly eroding biodiversity?’

Birds, the most diverse group of vertebrates found on farmland, can be beneficial to farmers, as they contribute to natural pest control, plant pollination and even seed dispersal. The chapter dedicated to birds discusses whether implementing nestboxes really affects the number of bird species at a location, as well as the importance of paddock trees and remnant vegetation. Native mammals are discussed in a similar fashion, although invasive species such as the red fox, European rabbit and black rat are also examined.

One great aspect of this book is the way that the authors explain the processes behind the science. For example, the chapter on reptiles includes topics such as ‘How are reptiles surveyed in agricultural landscapes?’, ‘A way of categorising reptiles’ and ‘How are lizards measured?’. These insights allow the reader to better understand each topic, and the practices they are discussing.

The text also discusses the important role that invertebrates play in agricultural landscapes, as they contribute to many crucial ecological processes, including pollination, seed dispersal, and the recycling of organic matter, as well as being food source for other animals. The role of ants on farms is a particular focus of this section, as is the effect that plantations have on butterfly species.

Farmland vegetation is also covered, including how vegetation cover and attributes change with time, and how this change can affect the animal species found at planting sites. The effect of livestock on vegetation cover and condition is also discussed, and the importance of large logs and native grasses for biodiversity touched on.

Of particular interest to me was Chapter Seven: ‘Managing wildlife friendly farms’. This chapter ties together the previous topics, and explains the do’s and don’ts of managing an ecologically sustainable farm. Habitat protection and restoration is discussed, as is the importance of evidence-based farm planning.

Wildlife Conservation in Farm Landscapes explores ecologically sustainable farming in short and concise chapters, but manages to do so without sparing the science or importance of each topic. The authors explain the science behind the findings, allowing the reader to better understand the text, and also manage to slip small snippets of interest into each chapter. This book will prove valuable to anyone managing agricultural land, but is also an excellent read just for interest’s sake. The authors’ book dedication to ‘the many farmers…doing outstanding restoration and management’ also highlights some of the important work being done by farmers in the fight to protect and enhance our nation’s biodiversity.

 This book belongs on your bookshelf if... You’re interested in agricultural ecology, you manage a rural or agricultural property or you want to learn more about the biodiversity found on farms.

Head to the CSIRO Publishing website to purchase your copy. 

Emma Walsh

Emma Walsh is a science graduate who enjoys sharing her love of nature with others. In the past, she has worked as a wildlife presenter, and enjoys teaching children about our native wildlife and its conservation. Her other interests include gardening and bushwalking.

Cover image via Wiki Commons/Nick Pitsas (CSIRO).